When it came to getting to know the flawed but fundamentally decent father he plays in “The Descendants,” George Clooney points first to the wardrobe.
“It does start with having khakis pulled up to your armpits and the Hawaiian shirt tucked in,” Clooney says. “So it was like, ‘All right. I’m never going to get laid again.’?”
Doubtful. But Clooney’s lack of vanity in playing real estate lawyer and self-described “backup parent” Matt King stands out as one of the keys to a performance that’s being hailed as one of the best in the actor’s career. Playing a man confronting the imminent death of his comatose wife as well as the discovery that she’d been cheating on him, Clooney veers between indecision and rash behavior, tenderness and abject terror.
And he says he loved every wavering moment.
“Sometimes I play characters who seem to have their act together and figure out later they don’t,” Clooney says. “This guy clearly doesn’t have his act together from the beginning and that loss of control is a fun thing to play.”
Take the scene when Matt discovers his wife’s infidelity and decides to throw on a pair of boat shoes and run to his sister-in-law’s house to confront her. Originally, the scene had Matt driving. But what would be fun about that, thought “Descendants” writer-director Alexander Payne. So he had Clooney slip on those funny shoes.
“He’s like, ‘Give it a good run,’?” Clooney remembers. “We did it seven or eight times. You’re running downhill and trying to look as emasculated as possible and,” Clooney pauses, waiting a beat, “I think we achieved that.”
Working with Payne follows Clooney’s career plan of making movies with top directors, a list that has included, on multiple occasions, Steven Soderbergh and the Coens.
“As long as you’re concerned with making films that last longer than an opening weekend, you want to work with filmmakers you admire,” Clooney says. “Alexander was at the top of my list. We almost worked together on ‘Sideways,’ but he didn’t hire me — not that I’m holding a grudge.”